How to print magazines

by Steve Watson in June 2023
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Making magazines is complicated. Any would-be publisher will find themselves presented with a seemingly endless list of decisions they need to make: How do you find contributors and persuade them to work for you? What type of paper should you use? Where should you sell your magazine? How much should it cost? And are you sure you shouldn’t just be making a podcast instead?

It can be a bewildering task, and the Mutual Aid thread on our Stack Discord server is full of great advice from publishers helping each other with the tricky stuff they have stumbled across along the way. And now the print people at Park Communications have created another useful resource with Sustainable Print Design, the new guide that will help to walk you through the process of printing a magazine.

The guide offers an overview of the main options available when choosing paper, bindings, laminates, and special finishes like embossing, debossing, die-cutting and throw-out pages. It indicates how much plastic or oil is used in the materials, and how recyclable they are, and it gives an idea of how expensive the various components are compared to each other. It’s available to download free from Park, or you can buy a print copy from Magculture.

It’s only really intended as an introduction but there’s a lot of detail in there, so to give an idea of the sort of information you’ll come across, I’ve picked out a few details below, imagining I was going to create a small, sustainable and cost-effective publication.

Metal bindings are commonly made from steel, which is magnetic. This allows it to be separated from paper pulp during recycling, and melted into new metal products. The simplest and most widely-used metal binding is saddle-stitching: two wire stitches (very similar to staples) in the centre of the fold.

This method is strong, the pages lie flat, and it’s fast and affordable. The two limitations are that, on higher pagination productions, the wires struggle to punch through the paper, and the centre spread gapes open, which means that its use is restricted to productions of no more than 60 to 80 pages.

The stitches themselves are normally a natural steel colour, but are also available in a wide range of decorative colours, including bronze and copper shades. Loop stitching is effectively the same as saddle stitching, but where the stitches double up as loops for a ring-binder.

I’m calling this one ‘Laminates’ because that’s what I think of when I think about applying a layer on top of the page, but the guide gets much more specific than that, splitting out into ‘Laminates, aqueous coats, varnishes and seals’.

Aqueous coats help the ink dry hard on the paper, and can also be applied for visual or tactile effect. They are suitable for both covers and text pages. Applied on press during printing, and drying instantly, they’re a fast, affordable and eco-friendly option. They also provide some level of protection, albeit not against water damage.

Available in neutral, gloss, matt or soft touch, they are often used to change the appearance and texture of the printed page.

Many people are surprised to discover that recycled paper isn’t necessarily needed for a sustainable production. Recycled materials certainly bring environmental benefits — typically, they require less water to produce, and have a smaller carbon footprint than virgin fibre.

But these days, 67% of all industrially-sourced paper in the UK (and all the paper used by Park) is FSC-certified or PEFC-certified, indicating that it’s been sourced from sustainably managed forests. Between 2005 and 2020, European forests grew by an area bigger than Switzerland, helping to lock away and store carbon.

The publishers who choose recycled materials, therefore, often do so for specific reasons beyond the climate impact – such as their business positioning and marketing goals, or achieving a specific creative effect. Recycled materials are often a highly noticeable addition to a print production, thanks to a typically rougher surface, off-white colour, and visible inclusions from impurities from the recycling process. This makes recycled papers with that classic ‘recycled look’ a popular choice for front covers, where they can make a bold sustainability statement, or for a feature section within a publication otherwise printed on FSC-certified virgin fibre materials.

There’s lots more to read in the full guide – download your free copy of Sustainable Print Design

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